2016/17 NBL Round 17 Power Rankings: The dream matchup

Watching the epic Australian Open Finals between the Williams sisters and Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, got your power rankings judge thinking – what is the dream NBL matchup for the Grand Final?

It’s hard to narrow one down, which is a downside of the league’s great parity. Yes, it’s great the chase to the NBL finals is so close because the middle of the ladder changes frequently. However, does not having three or four top-tier teams rob us of the marquee matchups? Would you rather have a competition filled with teams hovering around .500, or have your standout squads, which creates those big-time games and also opens the door for dramatic upsets?

However, if you had to decide the teams who would make the best Grand Final series, it’s hard to look past numbers one and two in this week’s rankings.

These power rankings are the opinion of one man. To discuss the rankings, hit Luke up on Twitter at @lukesicari.


1. Adelaide 36ers (Last week: 1st)

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Yes, the 36ers finally lost.

That doesn’t mean the minor premiers lose their number one power ranking, though.

It was only right that Adelaide’s epic six-game losing streak was snapped in one of the best, and most entertaining, matches of the season. We mentioned it a few weeks ago in this column about how fun an Adelaide/Illawarra Grand Final series would be, and Saturday’s game solidified it.

It must be noted that, for as good as Joey Wright’s men have been this season, that form hasn’t translated against the Hawks. Losing three of their four meetings, Adelaide must be feeling a little nervous if the match-up occurs in the finals.

For now, though, the 36ers remain the NBL’s benchmark. With no long-term concerns coming out of the defeat, there is no reason to drop Adelaide.


2. Illawarra Hawks (Last week: 4th)

While there is no reason to remove the 36ers from top-spot, there are plenty of ones to buy into the Hawks’ stocks. Embed from Getty Images

As mentioned above, Illawarra is the only team that has been able to curate a plan to take down Adelaide this season. We saw it again on Saturday, as they seemingly have all the answers to the Sixers’ biggest weapons.

Rotnei Clarke can match Jerome Randle’s offensive proficiency. Clarke was sensational in this week’s win, putting up 25 points on an efficient 8-of-15 shooting. Additionally, the likes of Marvelle Harris and A.J. Ogilvy can offset the 36ers’ secondary options, making this one of the NBL’s most even battles.

Now, let’s just hope we get it when the games really matter.


3. Cairns Taipans (Last week: 3rd)

Some are calling the Taipans’ run to the finals an unlikely one, which doesn’t make much sense.

Cairns has lost very winnable games this season, so maybe that’s where the thinking comes from. Or maybe it’s due to Aaron Fearne’s men not having the base talent level that screams championship contender.

However, what you saw on the weekend is what can make the Taipans dangerous. The defence and physicality will always be there from a Fearne-coached team. It’s the offensive punch that pushes them over the line, and if one of Cam Gliddon or Travis Trice can have high-scoring games, it increases their winning chances exponentially.

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On the weekend, Gliddon had 26 points on 7-of-11 shooting over New Zealand, while Trice put up 27 on 8-of-11 against Brisbane, both wins for Cairns. When you combine a stiff defensive unit, with a firing Gliddon or Trice, there’s no reason why the Taipans can’t compete, but whether they have enough to take down Adelaide or Illawarra is another question.


4. Perth Wildcats (Last week: 5th)

The more and more they look on the ropes; the more and more they bounce back. Embed from Getty Images

Once again, the Wildcats used their veteran poise and savviness to escape with a win at home. Whether it is making a shot when they need to, forcing havoc on the defensive end or the Perth crowd simply overwhelming an opponent, Trevor Gleeson’s men simply find a way, and Saturday night’s win over Melbourne have put the ‘Cats in the driver’s seat to make their 31st straight finals appearance.

Sitting on 12 wins, along with New Zealand, Sydney and Cairns, Perth is stuck right in the middle. However, it allowed the Wildcats to control their own destiny, as opposed to relying on other results to coincide with theirs.

You just have to marvel at Damian Martin. With majority of his 2016/17 campaign wiped out by injuries, Martin has made a huge impact since his return. Against United, not only did Martin play his usual tenacious defence, but he also added an offensive spark. Martin’s 11 points, and three triples, were huge in a contest that was a struggle on the scoring end. When he is on your side, it’s hard to bet against the Wildcats.


5. Sydney Kings (Last week: 8th)

Those good vibrations must be so refreshing for the Kings at the moment.

After it looked like Andrew Gaze’s boys were going to throw away their incredible start to the season, they responded with a pair of much-needed victories on the weekend.

The first one, an ugly contest against bottom of the table Brisbane, didn’t install much hope. Their offence was still inefficient, the interior defence couldn’t stop the Bullets and Sydney looked like a team fighting for survival. On Sunday, though, the Kings incurred a complete 180, and played like the squad that dominated the first half of the season.

Sydney had the swagger and style that made them so entertaining, with dunks aplenty and a pure joy that has been missing lately. Greg Whittington didn’t get in foul trouble, Kevin Lisch and Jason Cadee were steady and Craig Moller continued to display improvement.

It might have just been one good game, or it may be a sign of things to come to end the season. If it’s the latter, the Kings may be back in the title picture.


6. New Zealand Breakers (Last week: 2nd)

It’s tough to judge the Breakers’ defeat on Thursday night, as they had to deal with the mental stress of Akil Mitchell’s graphic eye injury. Thankfully, Mitchell is ok and is even making light of the situation, but it would have been almost impossible to stay focused on the contest after the incident.

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However, New Zealand can’t be given a pass for their dismal effort against Sydney on Sunday. At a time of the season where every game has increased importance, the Breakers played their worst game of the season. Coach Paul Henare echoed that.

“There’s an underlying quit in us when things get tough, and that’s concerning,” Henare said, via NBL.com.au.

“If we go to Adelaide next week and play like that we’ll get beat by 50.

“I’m embarrassed for the club and all the people we represent. I’m disgusted with what we put on the floor.”


7. Melbourne United (Last week: 7th)

United’s room for error just got extremely tighter, after yet another loss on the road.

In reality, Melbourne should have left Perth Arena with the win. In an ugly affair, Dean Demopoulos’ men had numerous opportunities to take the lead in the closing moments, but a slew of turnovers, a by-product of isolation basketball, doomed United.

It’s the double-edge sword that Melbourne plays with. When Chris Goulding and Casper Ware are on fire, they’re almost impossible to defend. No one can match the duos incredible shot making ability. However, isolation-heavy basketball rarely works in the clutch, as it is predictable and easy to plan against. You saw this against Perth, as United had four turnovers and five missed shots in the final three minutes.

Melbourne still has a chance to make the finals, but with two road games, and match-ups against Illawarra and Perth still on deck, they’ll have to earn it.


8. Brisbane Bullets (Last week: 6th)

With the Bullets no longer in the finals picture, the focus has shifted towards player development. Therefore, the performances of Jeremy Kendle this past week had to be encouraging.

The SEABL superstar looks like he belongs in the NBL, scoring 16 and 24 points this past week. Kendle has been playing with a chip on his shoulder, as he feels his NBL chance has been well overdue. With his scoring capabilities, and knack for putting the ball in the bucket in numerous ways, Kendle definitely belongs.

Along with the positive efforts of Mitch Young, Shaun Bruce and Matt Kenyon, Brisbane is getting some things to work with from their younger talents.